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Broadsheet ballad titled 'Black Flag'.

Date: c 1850 - c 1870
Overall: 256 x 91 mm, 0.022 kg
Medium: Woodcut engraving and printed text on paper mounted on card.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Broadsheet
Object No: 00017382
Place Manufactured:London

User Terms

    This broadsheet or broadside features the ballad 'Black Flag'.
    SignificanceThe museum's broadside collection is a colourful and valuable example of how maritime history was communicated to a wide audience, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. They vibrantly illustrate many of the themes and myths surrounding life at sea. Some of them also detail stories about transportation and migration.
    HistoryBLACK FLAG.

    O ever a rover's life for me,
    A gallant bark and a rolling sea,
    On my own proud deck like a king I'll stand,
    Where brave hearts bow to their chief's comand.
    With canvass spread, where'er I roam,
    The deep, deep sea, to me's a home,
    And my heart on that would ever be,
    With a black flag roving gallantly. / The deep &c.
    Though thonder storm & lightning flash,
    Onward my bark will proudly dash ;
    Swift as the flight of hawk she'll sail
    And bravely ride through the wildest gale
    We'll shun no foe, and strike to none,
    With bright sword gleaming or mounted gun ;
    But we'll meet them still on the broad
    With a black flag waving gallantly.

    Broadsheets or broadsides, as they were also known, were originally used to communicate official or royal decrees. They were printed on one side of paper and became a popular medium of communication between the 16th and 19th centuries in Europe, particularly Britain. They were able to be printed quickly and cheaply and were widely distributed in public spaces including churches, taverns and town squares. Their use expanded as they became used as a medium to galvanise political debate, hold public meetings and advertise products or cultural events.

    The cheap nature of the broadside and its wide accessibility meant that its intended audience were often literate individuals but from varying social standings. The illiterate may have also had access to this literature as many of the ballads were designed to be read aloud. In 'Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England', Peter Burke notes that the golden age of the broadside ballad, between 1600 and 1700, saw ballads produced at a penny each which was the same price for admission to the theatre.

    The ballads also covered a wide range of subject matter such as witchcraft, epic battles, murder and even maritime themes and history. They were suitably dramatic, but as James Sharpe notes also in 'Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England', many of them were designed as elaborate warnings against those contemplating a life of crime.

    The broadside ballads in the museum's collection were issued by a range of London printers and publishers for sale on the streets by hawkers. They convey, often comically, stories about love, death, shipwrecks, convicts and pirates. Each ballad communicates a sense that these stories were really designed to be read aloud, whether it was the local tavern or a private residence, for all to laugh at and enjoy.

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